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Alighiero Boetti
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essay Alighiero Boetti, Walker Art Center Collections, 2005

In 1968, the twenty-eight-year-old Alighiero Boetti changed his name to liberate his artistic practice. The name change was commemorated by a photographic postcard, titled Gemelli (Twins), showing the artist strolling down a leafy allée holding hands with himself. It’s a strangely touching image in which the handclasp signals both dominance and recessiveness. The new name addressed the now-twinned personality of “Alighiero e Boetti” (Alighiero and Boetti). Explaining his newly proclaimed duality, Boetti stated: “Alighiero is the more childlike, which is directed toward the outside, to a trusting environment. Alighiero is the name used by people who know me. Boetti is more abstract because family names categorize and classify. This is true for everyone. The first name gives a feeling of trust and intimate friendship. As a family name, Boetti is an abstraction, an expression.”1

In the previous year, Boetti had his premiere exhibitions. The first was in his hometown of Turin, Italy; the second was in Rome, which later became his primary residence. The exhibition in Turin, at Galleria Christian Stein, offered a startling introduction to an artist of dazzling variety, whose liberating use of industrial materials would signal a new understanding of sculptural possibility. It is also important to note that the exhibition introduced Boetti to critic Germano Celant and the artists Celant would that same year identify as the avatars of a new artistic disposition, Arte Povera.

While Boetti’s work remains associated with Arte Povera to this day, he withdrew himself from its roster only a year after he had been drawn into it. “It was a very exciting time, especially for materials—that was a discovery… . You see, the enthusiasm about seeing all those materials was fantastic, but then it got to be too much. Unfortunately, there were phases where Arte Povera was like going to the drugstore, where there is simply too much stuff available. Then in 1968 there were the exaggerations in which I participated until I couldn’t stand it anymore, and that was the end, finito.”2 What followed was one of the most singular and prolific arcs in twentieth-century art production.

In 1971, Boetti visited Afghanistan, which would for the better part of the decade become his alternate home. It was there that the artist began his series of embroidered world maps, a campaign that lasted until the Russian incursion in 1979, and then was revived briefly by Afghani refugees in Pakistan between 1982 and 1985. Boetti or his assistants made drawings for the maps, then chatted with the embroiderers, who were given total freedom in realizing the finished artworks. Like much of Boetti’s output, the maps provide a haunting record of passing time as the seamstresses’ needlework tightened or relaxed boundaries, as if the globe itself were inhaling and exhaling. Such is the wondering, dualistic elegance of Alighiero e Boetti.

  1. Quoted in Rolf Lauter, Alighiero e Boetti (Milan: Edizioni Charta, 2004), 8.

  2. Ibid., 14.

Flood, Richard. “Alighiero Boetti.” In Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections, edited by Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2005.

© 2005 Walker Art Center